By Barbara Isenberg
VERO BEACH - Jake Owen is coming home. Actually, the Vero Beach native and popular country music star might better be remembered around these parts as Josh Owen.
But call him Jake or call him Josh - one thing is for sure - he will unquestionably fill every seat at the Vero Beach High School's Performing Arts Center when he performs for a hometown crowd on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m.
This stop on his touring schedule is bound to be particularly special for the star as well as the audience. Jake is a Vero Beach High School grad, who is making a triumphant return to his alma mater.
"He has a lot of friends and family here and this concert will be sold out for sure," said Crystal Corrigan, auditorium director at the Performing Arts Center.
Although he has found success in the music industry, it was not his original intention to become a country performer.
Mr. Owen was born 15 minutes after his fraternal twin, Jarrod, and grew up in Vero Beach playing a wide range of sports.
By age 12, Jake wanted to play professional golf and join the tour with Tiger Woods and company.
Mr. Owen's Web site notes, "I was determined that golf was going to be my life."
Although Mr. Owen and his brother played other sports as well, he was especially drawn to golf because he got to spend lots of time with his father who relished the game.
Apparently the younger Owen had a natural knack for the game and was good enough to find himself engaged in weekend tournaments with other men old enough to be his father.
By age 15, he won his first tournament, besting his older co-players who were a little "ticked off," Mr. Owen.
Following graduation from Vero Beach High School, Mr. Owen and his brother enrolled at Florida State University where his brother played tennis and Mr. Owen would win a walk-on role as a member of the school's golf team.
A water-skiing accident, which required reconstructive surgery scuttled those plans, however, and Mr. Owen found he had no other contingency plan for a career.
Meanwhile his brother was going to classes, practicing tennis and generally enjoying college life while Mr. Owen was at his apartment recuperating and become despondent. Quite by accident (or perhaps by good luck), a neighbor had a guitar, which Mr. Owen borrowed and then began teaching himself how to play it.
"I had always loved music and grew up listening to classic country," he said.
Mr. Owen attended classes and kept perfecting his abilities on the guitar.
Live music coming from a campus area bar drew Mr. Owen inside, where he noted a lone guitarist singing some songs, just the sort of thing that he felt he could do.
So he promptly found the bar owner and asked what it would take to play a gig there.
Apparently, his timing was fortuitous and that same night he was on stage where he made $75 and was treated to free beer and the admiring glances of some ladies present in the club.
The good-looking college student quickly discovered that golf was not his only talent and within a short time, his rich voice and stage presence drew 100 and then several hundred appreciative listeners.
Mr. Owen started a band and named it "Yee Haw Junction" in honor of that well-known crossroads tourist stop and rural community at the intersection of State Road 60 and Florida's Turnpike.
At first, Mr. Owen and the band did covers of other country stars' material. But ultimately, Mr. Owen felt he needed to find his "own voice" by writing and performing original material. His first songs entitled "It's Been a While" and "8 Second Ride" were well received and the fledgling songster was on his way.
He was only nine credit hours away from graduation with majors in English and Political Science. But once again in his young life, he felt he was at a turning point and major crossroads.
He called home to his parents and told them that he had been working very hard on his music and somehow felt that a door was opening for him to pursue that dream much as he had previously hoped to pursue golf.
"My dad had always wanted to be a professional golfer and he could have been, but life and responsibilities prevented him from pursuing that dream.
"He told me that if this was my dream...then I should go for it and that I had their blessing," Mr. Owen said.
Two days later, he was packed and on his way to the Mecca of country music, Nashville.
There he found an apartment on the outskirts of town. He knew no one, but had two guitars, a notebook full of songs and a mighty dream to fulfill.
A chance meeting at the local bank opened yet another door for Mr. Owen when a bank employee asked him what he did for a living. She responded to his answer by saying she would like to hear his music sometime. Luckily, Mr. Owen had a CD and gave it to her on the spot.
The next day he got a call from Warner-Chappell Music, which expressed interest in his material. Although an association with that company ultimately did not work out, Mr. Owen, nonetheless, was convinced that his music had merit and he later met music producer Jimmy Ritchey who took a great interest in his career. The pair collaborated with Chuck Jones and wrote a song entitled "Ghost" that they hoped country recording star Kenny Chesney would record.
That didn't happen, but the song was noticed by Renee Bell, senior vice president for SonyBMG Nashville and she signed him to a recording deal.
Up until now, Mr. Owen had gone by his given name of Josh, but he was asked to change his name because several Joshes already were recording country music. So Josh adopted his grandfather's name "Jake."
He subsequently learned that Kenny Chesney had not only heard the song "Ghost" but also knew the song word-for-word. During a meeting with Chesney after a concert in Chicago, Mr. Owen heard the country star sing the song back to him.
In what must have seemed like a surrealistic dream, he noted that only two years before, he had attended a Kenny Chesney concert at Tallahassee's Leon County Civic Center, sitting in the 'nosebleed' section. And now the star was singing his song.
Since that time, his career has taken off and his dreams are coming true. While he did not become the touring golf professional he had once aspired to becoming, he found something even better.
"Maybe the golfing accident that ended my golfing career happened because I was supposed to do this. How many people would my golf game have affected? I hope that my music and my songs can touch people," he said.
The concert - the musical portion of the 2nd Annual Mardy's Tennis & Jake's Music Fest event - will be held Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. in the Vero Beach High School Performing Arts Center.
To purchase tickets, call (800) 333-7623 or by visiting the Web site www.chevents.com.